It’s the year of the comeback! It must be, because even poor, beleaguered Rory McIlroy forced his way back into the winners’ circle this weekend.
Rory won at Quail Hollow, a happy hunting ground for him in the past, to end the absolute torture of two whole years without a victory. I mean, that was just a year shorter than Ben-Hur spent in the slave galleys.
This follows on from the return from purgatory to glorious victory for Jordan Spieth, for Lydia Ko, for Brooke Henderson, for Hideki Matsuyama, for Billy Horschel, for Stewart Cink, for Brooks Koepka!
What do you mean, Koepka winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open doesn’t count? We’ve got a tenuous media narrative going here, don’t ruin it.
The only sport where you have 155 opponents every week
You may gauge that I’m not exactly on board with all this. Golf is difficult, even for people who are supernaturally good at it. There are 155 opponents to beat most every week. The sport is naturally set up to deliver far more droughts than winning streaks.
We assume that players of the talent of Rory, Jordan and Lydia – and it doesn’t help that they are among the most likeable people in sport – will win all the time. Once again, Tiger Woods has set a bar that we’ve been conditioned to think is normal but was utterly abnormal.
Take Jordan’s drought, for example. To listen to some you’d have thought he was near career meltdown.
During his winless spell he might have won the Masters in 2018 but for a troublesome tree branch. He was the leader on the last day of the Open later that year and second at the PGA at Bethpage in 2019. He still looked a pretty fair player to me.
The lockdown/covid year has been an issue for many
Add in that for many players, for one reason or another, 2020 was a complete washout. Not everyone in lockdown found that a Peloton bike and renewed self-belief constituted a late-40s career relaunch like Lee Westwood did.
Here’s where we find McIlroy. He was in the process of becoming a father for the first time. He was deep-thinking what was going on in the world as well, and he plainly hated the Covid-conditioned PGA Tour with no crowds to spark off.
“Weekend golf at last!” he deadpanned when he made the cut at Quail Hollow.
To me, there was nothing ever wrong with Rory but some self-confidence and his occasional difficulties with short irons and putter. Putting was what really came around at Quail Hollow.
There is the extra element of the engagement of Pete Cowen, the no-nonsense swing guru.
To hear Cowen, all he’s done is whisper a few suitably Northern English epithets into Rory’s ear. Hopefully the same as the legendary late caddie Dave Musgrove’s plea to Sandy Lyle in the 90s – `you’re the most talented natural golfer I’ve ever seen – stop mucking around’.
But McIlroy’s decision to go with only the cut shot with the driver from now on I think is a sound policy. It won’t lose him much distance, if any.
A policy that worked for Tiger
It is exactly what Tiger did so effectively at Augusta in 2019. Woods had been struggling off the tee generally and finally realised that a cut shot was his safest option, rather than blaze away and try to keep up with the youthful hitters.
They made mistakes, he minimised his, and the result was that long-awaited 15th major.
That was a comeback narrative that counted. Even then, I don’t think it properly compares with Jose Maria Olazabal winning the Masters for a second time when he was barely able to walk 18 months previously, or Ben Hogan’s many feats after his car crash.
But should Tiger get upright and swing a club in competitive anger again, we can have a chat about real comebacks.
The curious split of Super and Premier Leagues
As we have noted regularly in T2G, the Premier Golf League has not gone away. Only it seems to have split into two like an amoeba.
First we learned the now-Super Golf League was sniffing about with serious money, provoking a defensive stand by the new partnership of the PGA and European Tours, threatening lifetime bans and such.
US journo Alan Shipnuck dissected the tendrils. He tell us SGL is basically the Saudis taking their money out of PGL and trying to start their own World Tour of sorts (few events will be outside the Kingdom, it seems).
The Premier Golf League is *not* the Super Golf League. They are competitors, each trying to emerge as a viable new tour. Key difference: the SGL is backed by tainted Saudi money. I examine the differing visions and offer some context about Saudi Arabia: https://t.co/uXXcGzwwFD
— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) May 6, 2021
Meanwhile the PGL is still live with its original idea, but now with equity fund backing rather than the Saudi’s tainted millions.
There must have been some player interest in the Saudi-SGL plans to provoke the reaction of the Tours. But the only figure to publicly say anything remotely positive about it was, predictably, Phil Mickelson.
His comment that fans would “love” golf’s premier tour to be one set in identical desert courses in the Middle East is laughably stupid for a man of his supposedly massive IQ.
Players’ convenience will be the overriding factor
PGL’s idea of team-based events still has some limited merit for me as a possible break from the main tours’ relentless (and often boring) week-to-week 72-holers.
But I still don’t see top players surrendering their autonomy to play when and where they like, even for these mega-millions.
Sadly, it’s not a basic moral compass that’ll see players reject the Saudis. It’ll be convenience, again.